The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative tells the stories of the U.S. Department of State’s modern-day heroes among us and heroes from throughout our rich history. The following modern-day selectees were nominated by U.S. diplomatic missions overseas and domestic bureaus, and selected by a Steering Committee comprised of senior Department officials.
Political Assistant, Locally Employed Staff
Mitko Burcevski has worked alongside the U.S. in North Macedonia from the Republic’s beginnings. During the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, ethnic conflict in the Balkans caused regional instability and a humanitarian crisis that displaced almost 4 million people. At this time, Mitko joined the U.S. liaison office as its first permanent employee. In this role, he helped to establish the Mission’s operations, such as selecting the inaugural set of locally employed staff and drafting the diplomatic note that transitioned the liaison office into the Embassy.
At great personal and physical risk, Mitko also helped the U.S. navigate the then-Republic of Macedonia’s politics. During a 1999 attack on the Embassy by pro-Serbian demonstrators, Mitko led employees underground to safety and kept everyone calm. The following day, Mitko returned to the Embassy to help repair the damage – both physically, to the building itself, and politically, through his diligent work to find new ways for the country to reunite, make progress, and find common ground.
During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, he worked tirelessly to aid the tens of thousands of refugees coming across the border into Macedonia. He advocated for and monitored the construction of the Stenkovec refugee camp, one of the biggest in Macedonia. Mitko’s ingenuity and compassion expanded Macedonia’s capability to accommodate the large number of displaced people.
When violent tensions arose between ethnic Macedonians and the Albanian National Liberation Army in 2001, Mitko was on the ground every day, advocating for progress. In ceasefire negotiations among the ethnic-Albanian rebels and the Macedonian government, his efforts succeeded in getting 400 individuals to stand down. Additionally, alongside Ambassador Larry Butler, Mitko led a “tractor offensive” to help ethnic Albanian farmers safely return to their fields under the sights of Macedonian soldiers. Mitko’s work to manage relations and decrease violence ensured civilian well-being and paved the way for peace and security.
Committed to developing and sustaining peace in the region, in 2001 Mitko also facilitated acceptance of the constitutional changes of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in parliament, thus avoiding re-igniting a violent ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Over the next three years, as various factions tried to upend the agreement, Mitko worked tenaciously to prevent violence, achieve a ceasefire, and secure free and fair elections after the death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. During this tumultuous time, he and his family were repeatedly subjected to illegal wiretaps and smear campaigns. In the twenty years since the Agreement was signed, Mitko remained steadfast in his commitment to democracy, even when his work on behalf of the United States risked his personal safety.
Thanks to Mitko’s brave contributions, today North Macedonia is a multi-ethnic democracy, NATO Ally, and EU candidate. By providing the U.S. the nuanced understanding of a local national, he advanced the two countries’ mutual goals, including stability, humanitarian rights, and a free Europe. Mitko’s dedication to conflict resolution, democracy, and the advancement of his own nation has enhanced the causes of peace and justice in the region. The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy program is delighted to honor Mitko and invite you to join us in sharing his accomplished story.
Video Livestream – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors Mitko Burcevski (11/17/2022):
Ambassadors Deborah Malac, John Hoover, and Alexander Laskaris alongside Dr. Gary Penner, Kathleen FitzGibbon, Ervin Massinga, Sheila Paskman, and Dr. Gregory Martin
Diplomats Defeating Ebola
The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is proud to recognize Ambassadors Deborah Malac, John Hoover, and Alexander Laskaris with Dr. Gary Penner, Kathleen FitzGibbon, Ervin Massinga, Sheila Paskman, and Dr. Gregory Martin for their steadfastness in advancing the Department of State’s mission during the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
As the Ebola virus emerged in December 2013, these U.S. diplomats, then posted at U.S. embassies in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, were instrumental in developing a comprehensive strategy to overcome fear and denial, build government capacity, lead interagency teams, advise local and foreign governments, and win public trust.
Though physically separated, these leaders shared the common struggle of assuring the safety of embassy employees—American and Locally Employed Staff—during the evolving epidemic. This included allocating funds, personnel, and resources across embassies while facilitating the movement and evacuation of American health care workers who contracted Ebola or were at risk. Despite the rate of transmission and deadly impact, no embassy personnel were infected with the disease throughout the response.
Working tirelessly, the U.S. personnel courageously faced the fear, risks, and ravages of Ebola every day. By coordinating the response with USAID, the CDC, U.S. Public Health Service, Defense Department, host governments, and many other organizations, the work of these eight individuals contributed to the successful commencement of the region’s vaccine trial, ultimate flattening of the epidemiological curve, and the eventual resolution of the epidemic.
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors Diplomats Defeating Ebola (10/13/2021):
Locally Employed Staff (ret.)
The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is proud to recognize Jenkins Vangehn for his dedication and courage in advancing the Department of State’s mission during the second Liberian civil war in 2003.
As the second Liberian civil war unfolded, the country was overtaken by violence that resulted in over a thousand civilian casualties. At the time, Jenkins Vangehn was a Locally Employed Staff (LE Staff) member serving in the political and economic section at U.S. Embassy Monrovia. There, he courageously supported the mission through the most challenging of circumstances.
In 2003, Jenkins’ service was steadfast in the face of significant risk. As the Embassy continued to pressure then President Charles Taylor’s Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to give up power, Taylor grew suspicious of Jenkins for his service to the U.S. Embassy. Taylor and the AFL troops began surveilling Jenkins’ home, going so far as to kill his beloved dogs. In one such episode, at a roadblock manned by Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), Jenkins was approached, accused of working against Taylor and threatened with disappearance. Though these risks sparked a deep concern in Jenkins, he continued to serve the Embassy by providing staff with vital support, information, and news from the front and upcountry.
During this time, Jenkins also worked to identify American citizens who were trapped throughout the city due to the violence. He traveled undercover, at great risk, to physically collect them and bring them to the Embassy. Amid violent encounters and shortages of basic necessities, Jenkins also assisted in coordinating logistics for the Embassy’s repatriation and evacuation efforts.
Above all, Jenkins worked closely with political officer Dante Paradiso to negotiate and draft a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal statement for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel forces, which ultimately convinced them to depart from Monrovia. Former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia John Blaney noted that “the document was crucial because it was the real vehicle that ended the war; that is, right on the battlefield.”
Jenkins dedicated over 19 years of service to U.S. Embassy Monrovia and became involved in U.S. initiatives to support Liberia’s recovery. He has continuously shown his dedication, selflessness, and unwavering courage in supporting Americans abroad, the U.S. mission, and initiatives for the economic and social recovery of Liberia, its peace, security, democracy, and development
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors Jenkins Vangehn (6/29/2021):
Shannon Farrell, Dominic Randazzo, Roger Rigaud and Jennifer Savage
The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is proud to recognize Shannon Farrell, Dominic Randazzo, Roger Rigaud, and Jennifer Savage for their unwavering courage in advancing the Department of State’s mission following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) assigned temporary staff deployments (TDYs) to support consular officers in Port-au-Prince. Dominic Randazzo was one of those Consular Officers at U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince. He welcomed TDYs into the Embassy—and his home—during the most challenging of circumstances. Between January and August of 2010, CA sent 95 TDYs to Port-au-Prince, among them were Shannon Farrell, Jennifer Savage, and Roger Rigaud. Shannon, Jennifer, and Roger had prior experience in crisis management and outstanding language skills, and Jennifer and Roger had previous professional experience serving in Haiti.
Upon their arrival, Shannon, Roger, and Jennifer, along with Dominic, displayed relentless bravery and dedication in serving U.S. citizens who were affected and impacted by this tragedy. They worked around the clock to assist in the massive consular operations that led to the safe evacuation of 16,200 U.S. citizens. They worked around the clock despite suffering their own traumas, including the loss of an embassy colleague and witnessing severe injuries and devastation in the embassy and local communities. They performed work that was physically and emotionally difficult, working 16–20-hour shifts, sleeping in the consular section, and often eating one meal a day, in order to support the repatriation of Americans who were still in-country. They relied on past training and previous experiences during crises to stay resilient.
Shannon, Roger, and Jennifer exhibited outstanding policy judgement as well as intellectual, moral, and physical courage when serving as team leaders during the Embassy’s response to the earthquake. They operated in severely damaged locations, including an airport without Haitian customs, immigration, baggage handlers, local air traffic control, and only a small table on the tarmac.
The team also faced significant technology and communications challenges. Coordinating flights, assistance, and consular efforts was no easy task as the officers lacked access to cell phones and access to Department and CA systems. When the only airport phone failed and cut all communications, consular officers traveled through an hour of traffic to connect with the Task Force from the Embassy. And, on the way back, they brought more individuals to help, and they brought additional supplies such as gas and water. They faced serious logistics challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
The consular team did not know the timing, capacity, or destination of departing flights in advance as the schedule of flights was evolving. This made organizing flights a true challenge when trying to accommodate sick and injured passengers, as well as complicated cases of unaccompanied minors and non-U.S. citizens. The team was also tasked with filtering out fraud in an environment of complete devastation and loss of documentation as supporting identification.
Throughout their time responding to the devastation caused by the earthquake and its afternoon, these four Foreign Service Consular Officers did extraordinary work in the most challenging circumstances, logistically and emotionally, to ensure that Americans and their families returned safely.
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors Consular Officer ‘Heroes Among Us’ (5/7/2021):
Badye and Hella Ladhari
Locally Employed Staff (ret.)
In connection with the Department of State’s 2020 Locally Employed Staff (LES) and Foreign Service National (FSN) Recognition Day, the Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is pleased to honor Badye and Hella Ladhari as the first locally employed staff to receive this distinction for their heroic efforts to secure the U.S. Embassy and personnel in Tunis in September 2012.
When an angry group of protesters began to assemble outside the gates of U.S. Embassy Tunis on September 14, 2012, Badye Ladhari established and maintained contact with relevant Government of Tunisia security elements to coordinate their efforts to safeguard the Embassy perimeter and disperse the assembled crowd. When it became clear that an American member of the staff was trapped in a building outside of the Chancery’s sanctuary, Badye risked his own life to go meet the staff member and escort him back to safety with the rest of the personnel. During the commotion, when Badye noticed an angry group of protesters approaching the flagpole on the Embassy’s compound to take down the U.S. flag and hoist a black one in its stead, Badye ran towards the group and dispersed them before they had done any damage to the symbol of U.S. presence in Tunisia. This act was caught on video and later posted on Tunisian social media, resulting in numerous death threats on Badye and his family.
In the aftermath of the attack, Hella Ladhari was one of only a handful of locally employed staff members to be allowed back to the Chancery to deal with the aftermath of the attack on the Embassy community. As a senior Human Resources specialist, Hella liaised with the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to secure exit visas for over one hundred Embassy personnel and family members. She worked with the Embassy’s travel section to arrange a special, military evacuation flight when no commercial flights were available. She processed hundreds of departure and curtailment orders to get American staff and their families to safety.
Badye and Hella Ladhari, a husband-and-wife team with a combined 58 years of service to the U.S. government and U.S. Embassy Tunis, exemplify the heroism, selfless service, and extraordinary contributions of locally engaged staff who provide invaluable support every day to advance American diplomacy worldwide.
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors Badye and Hella Ladhari (11/18/2020):
Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is pleased to honor William Rowland as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy for his extraordinary commitment to the safety of American citizens abroad in the midst of a severe security threat at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, Congo in June of 1997. William was on his first tour with the Department as a Political and Economic Officer when he volunteered to go above and beyond his responsibilities, repeatedly risking his life, and showing intellectual, and physical courage, in order to bring private U.S. citizens and other Foreign Service Officers and embassy staff to safety at the outset of violence and civil war in Congo. During the course of one week he personally evacuated two groups of U.S. citizens on flights out of Brazzaville and rescued a colleague detained behind rebel lines.
Prior to the events of June 1997, William Rowland worked as an Entry-Level Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, providing a full suite of consular services and later covering political and economic developments, including the run-up to anticipated national elections.
When fighting broke out between those aligned with the president and the opposition leader, William maintained calm under pressure. He displayed courage despite being caught in the crossfire between the Cobra militia and government troops and continued to work to support American citizen evacuations. When the U.S. ambassador called for a volunteer to retrieve two fellow colleagues caught behind rebel lines, William volunteered and navigated the treacherous journey alone and unarmed in order to successfully rescue his colleagues.
Again, remaining calm and cool-headed despite setbacks that rendered earlier evacuation plans untenable, William employed his cultural diplomacy, language skills, problem-solving and negotiation skills in order to persuade a Ukrainian salvage team on an old Russian plane to give him and the remaining Americans safe passage out of the war zone. He evacuated with only a change of clothes, his camera and his passport and later learned that his residence, along with his possessions and vehicle, in Brazzaville had been severely damaged by shelling. Despite his experiences under fire and losing all of his personal property during the rapid evacuation, William continued on to serve twenty-five years as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State in seven other postings around the world. William retired from the Department in July 2020.
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors William Rowland (09/29/2020):
Robert “Bob” Hopkins
Civil Service Officer
Robert “Bob” Hopkins is the Associate Regional Director for Client Services in the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Mission’s (OFM) Houston Regional Office. In this role, Bob regularly supports disaster preparedness, resilience building, and outreach with hundreds of foreign consulates and international organizations.
Bob is being recognized as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy for bravely leading rescue missions at several foreign consulates in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, as well as the invaluable role he’s played during multiple large-scale crises, where he liaises with local authorities, disaster response, foreign national victims and foreign consulates. Bob in one instance took to a boat in the floodwaters to rescue stranded diplomats.
Because of his extensive international disaster and first responder expertise, OFM deployed Bob to New Orleans and Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to be part of the 13-person “State South” Command Center. After Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Bob and OFM’s Houston Regional Office were uniquely positioned to offer front-line support in assisting all international aspects of disaster relief. Prepared to continue to serve despite the devastation, Bob slept in his government-issued vehicle and alternated “short sleeping shifts” at a police academy with a local police cadet, while leading rescue, recovery and communication operations related to foreign nationals. As part of the Department of State-wide domestic emergency response, Bob and the team liaised with foreign consular officers to help identify missing, injured and deceased foreigners, coordinate multiple excursions into New Orleans and Mississippi and provide disaster condition updates and daily briefings with foreign delegations. Amidst dangerous conditions, he worked with the Spanish Embassy, the Louisiana National Guard and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security team to rescue a Spanish parliamentarian and her family from the New Orleans Convention Center.
More broadly, Bob serves as the crucial link between foreign missions, local law enforcement, FEMA, the American Red Cross, and social services. Prior to working for the Department of State domestically, he worked at five U.S. Embassies overseas and amassed 25+ years of international programs management expertise. He previously served in the U.S. Navy and gained experience in the private sector as the CEO of the largest private security corporation in Central America, providing external security for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and other organizations.
Learn more about Bob’s story and OFM here:
- Office of Foreign Missions
- C-SPAN video featuring Ambassador Joe Sullivan on the Department of State’s Hurricane Katrina relief efforts (2:46-12:00)
- Voice of America archive : “Rice: US Will Help Countries Locate Missing Citizens”
- ShareAmerica article: “Diplomat honored as Katrina hero”
Video Archive – How a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy Supported the Department’s Post-Disaster Response (11/20/19):
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Slater
Information Management Officer
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Slater is a Foreign Service Specialist and incoming Dean of the School of Applied Information Technology at the Foreign Service Institute. Lizzie has worked at the State Department in a variety of capacities: first as a Locally Employed Staff member in 1980, then as an Eligible Family Member, as a Foreign Service Secretary, and finally as a Foreign Service IT Specialist in 1998. Her career has taken her to Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius, Washington, Thailand, Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, and Egypt. For her first tour, Lizzie was deployed to Dar es Salaam on August 6, 1998. On her second day, the U.S. Embassy was bombed as part of the 1998 terrorist attacks in Tanzania and Kenya. When the blast went off, Lizzie was in a colleague’s office in the front part of the embassy building, a mere 50 feet from the detonation. Despite being injured in the bombing, Lizzie stayed on to reconstruct an operating embassy and its communication systems, to ensure that the post had communications back to Washington. Soon after, she transferred to the other bombsite at U.S. Embassy Nairobi to do the same work there. Lizzie’s service and actions in the face of adversity and during this defining moment in diplomatic history show her as a true champion and Hero of U.S. Diplomacy.
Learn more about Lizzie’s story and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya:
- U.S. Department of State’s DipNote blog post: “My Journey to Being Recognized as a ‘Hero of U.S. Diplomacy'”
- Foreign Service Journal July/August 2019 article: “Reflections on the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania”
- C-SPAN segment on the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s East Africa Bombings exhibit
- ShareAmerica article: “State Department honors Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Slater as first Hero of U.S. Diplomacy”
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Launch Event (09/13/19):